All-Time Heat Records Melt in Europe; 108°F in Paris

July 24, 2019, 6:41 PM EDT

Above: A dry part of the bed of the River Loire at Montjean-sur-Loire, France, on July 24, 2019, as drought conditions prevail over much of western Europe. Image credit: Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images.

Visitors and residents alike are sweating their way through one of the worst heat waves in Western European history. Three nations—Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands—set all-time record highs on Wednesday, along with more than 60 cities across the region. Some of the all-time records broken were more than a century old. (These records are preliminary until confirmed by national weather agencies.)

The heat wave’s climax is expected to arrive on Thursday, when Paris is predicted to break its all-time high of 40.4°C (104.7°F), set in 1947, by as much as 3°F. The United Kingdom may approach its all-time record high of 38.5°C (101.3°F), set in Brogdale on August 10, 2003. Update (12:20 pm EDT Thursday): Paris smashed its all-time high with at least 42.6°C (108.7°F) on Thursday.

The three preliminary national records were set in close quarters—each less than 50 miles from the intersection of Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Kleine Brogel Air Base, Belgium: 39.9°C (103.8°F); old record 38.8°C in Liège in July 2015
Geilenkirchen NATO Air Base, Germany: 40.5°C (104.9°F); old record 40.3°C in Kitzingen on July 5 and August 7, 2015
Eindhoven, Netherlands: 39.3°C (102.7°F); old record 38.6°C in Warnsveld on August 23, 1944

Update: Both Germany and the Netherlands have already topped their all-time national records from Wednesday by at least 1°C, according to these preliminary reports from Thursday:
Lingen, Germany: 41.5°C (106.7°F)
Gilze en Rijen, Netherlands: 40.4°C (104.7°F)

Extreme heat, take two

This is the second record-smashing heat wave that Europe has seen this summer, following extreme early-season heat during the last few days of June. In that first round, many dozens of cities set record highs for June, and some of them broke all-time highs for any month, including Germany’s three oldest stations with reliable long-term data going back as far as 1824.

In France, about 25% of the nation’s 150-plus top-level weather observing stations have set all-time records this summer (through Wednesday), according to the French laboratory Keraunos. German meteorologist Michael Theusner told Category 6 that a total of 44 of the 490 German stations reporting on Wednesday had all-time high temperatures.

The upper-level pattern behind this week’s European heat includes a strong upper high over western Europe, flanked closely by upper lows over the northeast Atlantic and eastern Europe. The result is an “omega block” (so named for the Greek letter it resembles), which tends to be a resilient setup that can take days to run its course. At the surface, the omega block has allowed very hot air from northwest Africa to stream across the drought-parched terrain of Spain and France. The lack of soil moisture permits incoming sunlight to heat the ground very efficiently, thus stoking the blast furnace that Europeans are enduring.

The heat is expected to reach its apex on Thursday across western Europe. Toward the weekend, the intense heat will translate northward and eastward into parts of Scandinavia, where monthly and all-time records may fall. By early next week, upper-level high pressure—perhaps stronger than anything ever recorded at these latitudes—will extend from northern Scandinavia to the North Pole. This pattern may cause Arctic sea ice, which was already at a record low extent for the date on Wednesday, to diminish at a rapid rate into early August. 

Residents gather to observe a forest fire raging near Maials in the northeastern region of Catalonia, Spain, on June 27, 2019
Figure 1. Residents gather to observe a forest fire raging near Maials in the northeastern region of Catalonia, Spain, on June 27, 2019. Image credit: Pau Barrena/AFP/Getty Images.

Climate change and heat adaptation

International weather records researcher Maximiliano Herrera points out that the two stages of Europe's 2019 heat are not unlike what happened in 1947, another intensely hot summer that saw major heat spikes in both late June and late July. The current heat wave will also test more than a few records set in the catastrophic heat wave of 2003 that took tens of thousands of European lives. A heat wave on par with 2003's was found to be made at least twice as likely by human-induced climate change, according to a landmark study carried out in 2004. A subsequent modeling study attributed hundreds of the 2003 deaths in Paris and London to the heat-boosting effects of climate change. A rapid-attribution study not yet peer-reviewed found that a heat wave on par with this past June's was at least five times more likely to occur as a result of human-produced greenhouse gases.

Since the 2003 disaster, many European cities and nations have adopted techniques that have saved lives during heat waves in the United States and elsewhere, including cooling centers, temporary air conditioners, and outreach to vulnerable residents. Paris implemented just such a multipronged plan during the June heat wave. Overall, this summer will provide a major test of how well these adaptation efforts are keeping up with the ever-increasing risk of dangerous heat. It may be weeks before we know how well the heat adaptations succeeded in Europe, because time is needed to assemble and analyze mortality statistics and compare them with typical numbers for this time of year.

Vanessa Deschamps (left), an employee of the French city of Oyonnax, meets with residents on July 11, 2019
Figure 2. Vanessa Deschamps (left), an employee of the French city of Oyonnax, meets with residents on July 11, 2019. The city government arranges regular visits to some 200 elderly people to help them combat loneliness and deal with the risks of heat waves. Image credit: Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/AFP/Getty Images.

This week's heat by the numbers

Below is a sampling of Tuesday and Wednesday’s all-time highs. Note that many of these records could be broken on Thursday, and many other new all-time records may be set. Thanks go to Maximiliano Herrera, Etienne Kapikian (Meteo-France), and Michael Theusner for compiling and furnishing these records.

FRANCE

Tues. 7/23
Bordeaux City 42.6°C (108.9°F)
Bordeaux Airport 41.2°C (106.2°F)
Châteauroux 41.2°C (106.2°F)
Angers 41.1°C (106.0°F)
Le Mans 40.7°C (105.3°F)
Cognac 40.3°C (104.5°F)
Tours 40.2°C (104.4°F)
Rennes 40.1°C (104.2°F)
Cholet 39.1°C (102.4°F)
Limoges Airport 37.9°C (100.2°F)
Cap de la Heve 36.5°C (105.3°F)

Wed. 7/24
Vichy 41.3°C (106.2°F)
St Dizier 40.6°C (105.1°F)
Sens 40.6°C (105.8°F)
Bourges 40.2°C (104.4°F)
Avord 40.2°C (104.4°F)
Nancy-Essay 40.1°C (104.2°F)
Nancy-Ochey 39.6°C (103.3°F)
Metz 39.7°C (103.5°F)
Reims 39.7°C (103.5°F)
Dijon 39.5°C (103.1°F)
Nevers 39.4°C (102.9°F)
Erneville-aux-Bois 39.2°C (102.6°F)
Epinal 38.8°C (101.8°F)
Chateau-Chinon 38.5°C (101.3°F)
Charleville-Mezieres 38.2°C (100.8°F)
Dorans (formerly Belfort) 38.1°C (100.6°F)
Langres 38.0°C (100.4°F)

JERSEY (British crown dependency)

Tues. 7/23
Jersey Airport 36.0°C (96.8°F)

LUXEMBOURG

Wed. 7/24
Mamer 38.9°C (101.0°F)*
  * July national record

NETHERLANDS

Wed. 7/24
Eindhoven 39.3°C (102.7°F)
   *preliminary all-time national record
Gilze Rijen 39.2°C (102.6°F)
Volkel 38.9°C (102.0°F)
Maastricht 38.6°C (101.5°F)
Twenthe 37.6°C (99.7°F)
Eelde 36.9°C (98.4°F)
Lelystad 36.8°C (98.2°F)
Wijk Ann Zee 36.5°C (97.7°F)
De Bilt 36.4°C (97.5°F)
De Kooy 34.8°C (94.6°F)

BELGIUM

Wed. 7/24
Kleine Brogel Air Base 39.9°C (103.8°F)*
   *preliminary all-time national record
Schaffen 39.4°C (102.9°F)
Charleroi 37.5°C (99.5°F)
Antwerpen 37.1°C (98.8°F)
Spa 35.9°C (96.6°F)
Elensnborn 35.8°C (96.4°F)

GERMANY

Wed. 7/24
Geilenkirchen NATO Air Base 40.5°C (104.9°F)*
   *preliminary all-time national record
Saarbrücken-Burbach 40.2°C (104.4°F)
Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler 39.9°C (103.8°F)
Tonisvort 39.7°C (103.5°F)
Bonn 39.5°C (103.1°F)
Koln 39.5°C (103.1°F)
Kleve 39.5°C (103.1°F)
Köln-Stammheim 39.2°C (102.6°F)
Trier-Zewen 39.2°C (102.6°F)
Heinsberg 39.2°C (102.6°F)
Neunkirchen 39.2°C (102.6°F)
Dusseldorf 39.1°C (102.4°F)
Lingen 39.1°C (102.4°F)
Perl Nennig 39.0°C (102.2°F)
Duisburg 38.8°C (101.8°F)
Kaiserslautern 38.5°C (101.3°F)
Olsdorf 38.1°C (100.6°F)
Essen 38.0°C (100.4°F)
Geldern 37.9°C (100.2°F)
Aachen 37.6°C (99.7°F)
Munster 37.5°C (99.5°F)
Montabaur 37.4°C (99.3°F)
Arnsberg 37.3°C (99.1°F)
Hilgenroth 37.0°C (98.6°F)
Blankenrath 37.0°C (98.6°F)
Nurburg 36.8°C (98.2°F)
Kall-Sistig 36.6°C (97.9°F)
Deuselbach 36.5°C (97.7°F)
Ludenshcheid 36.0°C (96.8°F)
Norderney 35.4°C (95.7°F)

SWITZERLAND

Wed. 7/24
Sion 38.0°C (100.4°F)
Scuol 33.8°C (92.8°F)
Neuchatel 37.9°C (100.2°F)
Moleson 26.4°C (79.5°F)

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Bob Henson

WU meteorologist Bob Henson, co-editor of Category 6, is the author of "Meteorology Today" and "The Thinking Person's Guide to Climate Change." Before joining WU, he was a longtime writer and editor at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, CO.

bob.henson@weather.com

@bhensonweather

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